Pallavi Pinakin elaborates on how brainstorming at work unlocks creativity

In the endless race to meet deadlines and attend to urgent tasks, creativity usually starts taking a backseat at work. Who has the time or mind space to think of new things when every minute of every day is already packed?

While understandable, this is the kind of thinking that lands professionals in a rut by sapping their sense of engagement and purpose at work.

Instead of finding motivation in exciting ideas or increasing productivity through continual improvements, you fall back on doing things ‘the way they’re meant to be done.’ The status quo also has practical consequences for the future – standing still in a relentlessly evolving market is a dangerous option because it can render you and your business obsolete in the next wave of change.

Creativity isn’t automatic or effortless. Like any skill, it needs to be nurtured regularly so you can enjoy the many benefits it offers – at both personal and professional levels. Here then are a few tried and tested ways to unlock greater inventiveness at work.

REFRAMING Whenever there’s a question at hand, the best answer can often seem obvious. For example, in response to a query about how the company’s 10th anniversary can be celebrated, a simple answer like ‘cake and snacks’ is probably sufficient.

However, if you ask how the company’s 10th anniversary can be made more meaningful and memorable for its employees, a whole new set of potential answers could come your way. Reframing problems from a different perspective often facilitates more creative and effective solutions.

Start by ‘frame storming’ and come up with different ways to phrase the question. Ask yourself what lies at the heart of the matter. Is it finances, reputation, trust or functionality?

The answer might turn the issue on its head. Thereafter, conduct a ‘bad idea storm.’ In traditional brainstorming, people often feel pressured to deliver brilliant ideas, which actually stifle their creativity. Instead, ask people to come up with their worst ideas – wild, crazy and unrealistic. This will unlock a variety of possibilities and some may have the kernel of a winning solution hidden inside.

Finally, you can bring in an external perspective to refocus the lens. Ask a colleague from a different department to share his insights or enlist an expert from another industry to act as a sounding board.

ENVIRONMENT Our surroundings and the way we interact with them has a lot do with our thought processes. If you want to break out of the mould, change where you are or how you look at things. Simple acts can transform your perspective and open new pathways in the brain – such as lying on the floor and looking up or walking around an unfamiliar part of town.

In a popular TED Talk, American entrepreneur Derek Sivers spoke about how many of our ingrained beliefs are actually quite random. For instance, house numbers; in our part of the world, these numbers move in a linear progression along the street and we think ‘that’s the way it is.’

However, houses in Japan are typically numbered in the order they were built or assigned, which seems logical and correct to the Japanese. Immersing in a culture that’s different can help dismantle these types of assumptions and make room for more imaginative thinking.

IDLE MIND Often some of your best ideas come when you’re in the shower or daydreaming. This isn’t a coincidence.

Evidence shows that being idle leads to greater creativity. When the brain is relaxed, it has a chance to process information, make radical links and shape new ideas.

Unfortunately, our busy days leave little time for natural idleness so it’s important to intentionally create opportunities for your brain to unwind. Be it morning meditation or a weekly stroll in the park, schedule it.

Another way to foster inventiveness is to go tech free. According to a study, four days of hiking without internet connectivity led to a 50 percent increase in creativity.

While you may not want to be quite so drastic, try taking device free minibreaks in your workday. Instead of mindlessly browsing social media, give your brain and eyes a rest by doing something else – stretches, savouring a cup of tea or listening to music, for example. This unstructured downtime will replenish your mental energies and make it easier for fresh perspectives to surface.

MAKE A MESS! A final and rather counterintuitive way of sparking imaginative ideas is to get a little messy! New research shows that working in a chaotic environment may boost creativity because your brain starts making surprising connections when things aren’t in their place.

And what’s more, an untidy environment encourages you to colour outside the lines, leading to bold and unconventional ideas.